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Cruelty on the court
Antiquated spectacles like donkey basketball have no place in the modern education system. When animals are kicked and prodded into doing things that they find confusing and upsetting—as happens in donkey basketball—students get a lesson in insensitivity.
With a new school year just underway, students, teachers and administrators are all ready for a fresh start. And as sure as there will be lost homework, missed school buses and overcooked cafeteria food, there will also be school fundraisers, including, in some districts, a cruel spectacle called "donkey basketball" that should have been benched long ago.
Yes, you read that correctly: Students and faculty shoot hoops from the backs of donkeys supplied by a couple of companies that rent out these personable animals like carnival equipment. Donkeys used in these fundraisers are frequently handled roughly by unruly riders who are more caught up in putting on a show for spectators than treating these gentle animals with the care that they deserve. During games, donkeys are often punched, kicked, screamed at or whipped for being "uncooperative."
Donkeys are intelligent, gregarious and full of personality. They are very companionable and, in the wild, travel in herds with up to 100 members.
The donkeys used for basketball games are loaded and unloaded into tractor-trailers and hauled from one event to the next. They find themselves in the middle of gymnasiums surrounded by screaming kids, bullhorns and whistles. According to The Donkey Sanctuary in the U.K., an average-size donkey is not able to bear much more than 100 pounds, yet in most games, donkeys are forced to carry riders weighing 150 pounds or more.
Donkeys are specifically excluded from protection under the Animal Welfare Act and are afforded no federal protection whatsoever. Operators of traveling shows come and go quickly, and even if local humane authorities want to take action, the donkeys and their owner will be long gone.
Stress and confusion can lead donkeys to become skittish and unpredictable. A game at a Washington high school was canceled after three donkeys fought being taken into the school and one slipped and fell. A rider in a donkey basketball game in Waterloo, Ill., was awarded more than $110,000 for injuries that he sustained, and a Wisconsin state senator fell off a donkey during a game, breaking her leg. In March of 2006, a fifth-grade teacher in Florida sued the Diocese of St. Petersburg and the owner of the Dixie Donkey Ball company, claiming she suffered injuries after being thrown off a donkey at a fundraiser.
Supporting donkey basketball sends kids the message that forcing animals to perform ridiculous stunts is acceptable if it's for "a good cause." Child psychologists as well as top law-enforcement officials consider cruelty to animals a red flag, and given that most schools rightfully strive to live up to a zero-tolerance policy for bullying, they should condemn all forms of gratuitous cruelty, including cruelty to animals.
With so many innovative and humane ways to raise funds, schools are failing themselves and their students by promoting animal exploitation for cheap laughs.
Gemma Vaughan, M.S.W., is a cruelty caseworker with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.